The watch started in spring training and expectations sky-rocketed after he hit three home runs early in Grapefruit League action. His performance encouraged the Twins to start Hicks in center field on Opening Day, skipping AAA completely. The fairy tale for which Twins fans were hoping ended there.
Hicks didn’t get a hit on Opening Day, and though he got his first hit by the end of the series, it was one of only two he had in his first 48 at-bats. He gradually improved, but the key word is “gradually,” reaching a .179 batting average by June ninth when he left the second game of a doubleheader with a hamstring strain.
He returned in July, hitting .230 with a 671 OPS for the month, before being demoted to Rochester at the beginning of August. He was almost immediately benched with a quad strain followed by a heel injury followed by a sore wrist. He finished the year hitting just .222 in Rochester and .192 in the majors. And when the Twins traded Justin Morneau, they acquired Alex Presley, a 28-year-old center fielder who finished the season as the Twins starting center fielder.
Hicks has some serious challenges facing him. Prior to his 2012 breakout campaign in AA-New Britain, scouts wondered if he should remain a switch-hitter, since he hit so poorly from the left side of the plate. His .559 OPS in the majors versus right-handers resurrected those concerns. He needs to show he can handle AAA pitching, let alone major league pitching. And with top minor league prospect Byron Buxton charging through the farm system, he can no longer count on being the organization’s future center fielder.
On the other hand, he’s still just 24 years old, still a #1 pick and still the guy who came into last year as the 72nd best prospect in baseball. He now has a better idea of what is required to reach and survive in the majors, and demonstrated his speed/patience/power skill set last year, even if he forgot to hit.
Finally, he was limited to 124 days of service time, meaning the Twins have several more years to see what they have or ease him into the majors as a fourth outfielder, if need be. In fact, he was only added to the 40-man roster last November, so the Twins can have him spend a couple years in AAA if necessary.
It was a disappointing step backwards for Hicks and the organization, but perhaps that was a result of trying to take such a giant step forward. He’ll begin 2014 in the place where he clearly should have begun 2013: on the cusp of a promising major league career. That’s not such a bad place to be, even after a lost year.
#13 – Twins in the WBC
#12 – Drew Butera Traded to Dodgers
#11 – Twins Sign Kubel, Trade Doumit
#10 - Brian Dozier Breaks Through
#9 - Kyle Gibson Promoted
#8 - Aaron Hicks' Lost Year
#7 - Twins Draft Kohl Stewart